What Is a Chicken Ranch Casserole?

Megan Shoop
Megan Shoop
A chicken, which is used to make chicken ranch casserole.
A chicken, which is used to make chicken ranch casserole.

Chicken ranch casserole, despite its name, does not traditionally contain ranch-style dressing. Instead, it is usually a combination of chicken, cream of chicken soup, cream of mushroom soup, diced tomatoes, and pasta. A chicken ranch casserole may also include chili peppers, hot spices, and tortillas. The end result is a Tex-Mex blend of flavors that are often featured in the southern United States. The recipe’s name may come from some viewing it as a typically southwestern, or rancher-style, dish.

Sharp cheddar cheese is often used to top chicken ranch casseroles.
Sharp cheddar cheese is often used to top chicken ranch casseroles.

A classic chicken ranch casserole usually begins with shredded chicken. Some cooks prefer to use a whole chicken, while others only use thighs or breasts. Often, the chicken included in this recipe is left over from a previous meal, thus cutting down on work and cooking time. Alternatives can include planning ahead and baking the chicken the night before, stewing it in a slow-cooker with chicken broth, or purchasing a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken and shredding it at home.

Red bell peppers are a common ingredient in chicken ranch casserole.
Red bell peppers are a common ingredient in chicken ranch casserole.

The chicken needs no real seasoning, though many cooks like to at least sprinkle it with salt and pepper prior to baking or shredding. Others may prefer to marinade it in hot sauce, for extra spice, or add a dry rub of garlic and onion powder for an extra touch of flavor. The only true requirement is that the chicken be cooked and in small pieces.

A number of different kinds of vegetables may go into chicken ranch casserole. Chopped onions, diced tomatoes, and green chili peppers are traditional. Green and red bell peppers and sliced mushrooms also frequently make an appearance. Some enterprising cooks even like to include jalapenos, pablanos, and other kinds of spicy peppers. All of these veggies must be lightly sautéed before going into the casserole to mellow their flavors and soften them slightly.

Pepper jack can be used in place of cheddar for a spicier chicken ranch casserole.
Pepper jack can be used in place of cheddar for a spicier chicken ranch casserole.

Another Mexican-style touch to chicken ranch casserole includes the crust. Generally, cooks tear or snip corn and flour tortillas into strips and press them into a lightly buttered casserole dish, patchwork style. This usually creates a thin, crisp, flaky crust for the casserole. Any kind of tortilla may be used, from whole wheat to those infused with spinach, tomato, or garlic.

Flour tortillas are often cut into strip for use in a chicken ranch casserole.
Flour tortillas are often cut into strip for use in a chicken ranch casserole.

The last part of a chicken ranch casserole usually involves two traditional soups, cream of mushroom and cream of chicken. Cooks looking for a speedy meal may prefer to use canned soups, but one may also make homemade versions and use those instead. The soups, shredded chicken, and vegetables all get mixed together and poured into the tortilla crust. Everything is typically covered with a generous helping of cheddar cheese, though some may prefer pepper jack or Colby. The casserole is fully cooked when it is bubbly and the cheese is melted and golden.

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    • A chicken, which is used to make chicken ranch casserole.
      By: Diana Taliun
      A chicken, which is used to make chicken ranch casserole.
    • Sharp cheddar cheese is often used to top chicken ranch casseroles.
      By: Bert Folsom
      Sharp cheddar cheese is often used to top chicken ranch casseroles.
    • Red bell peppers are a common ingredient in chicken ranch casserole.
      By: Natika
      Red bell peppers are a common ingredient in chicken ranch casserole.
    • Pepper jack can be used in place of cheddar for a spicier chicken ranch casserole.
      By: Bert Folsom
      Pepper jack can be used in place of cheddar for a spicier chicken ranch casserole.
    • Flour tortillas are often cut into strip for use in a chicken ranch casserole.
      By: Jiri Hera
      Flour tortillas are often cut into strip for use in a chicken ranch casserole.
    • The chicken for a chicken ranch casserole can be seasoned using a dry rub prior to cooking.
      By: Monkey Business
      The chicken for a chicken ranch casserole can be seasoned using a dry rub prior to cooking.